- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 24, 2015

Uncle Sam routinely issues summer warnings about boating safety, wearing sunscreen and not diving into unknown waters.

Now the government is adding a recommendation that swimmers not urinate or defecate or drink the water in chlorinated pools and freshwater lakes.

The cause for alarm is last summer’s outbreak of norovirus infections at a popular lake in Oregon.

During the July 11-13 weekend, about 15,400 people visited the Blue Lake Regional Park in Multnomah County, Oregon, which features a swimming beach, “splash pad” water spray area and boating.

The lake, which has “bubblers” to circulate water, is tested twice a week from May to September to check for pathogens like E. coli bacteria.

By Sunday afternoon July 13, Oregon state health officials learned of numerous reports of illness linked to the lake.

Officials closed the lake for 10 days for public safety and to permit an investigation. They found that about 70 people became ill with the norovirus, which can cause diarrhea and vomiting.

“More than half of those who got ill were children under 10 years old,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a May 15 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

A precise explanation for how the lake got contaminated with norovirus was not determined, but “a swimmer’s vomit or fecal incident in the lake over the weekend, probably on Saturday July 12, could explain the point source outbreak pattern,” the CDC report said.

For this and other reasons, the agency is urging swimmers not to swim in any freshwater lake or go in a pool “if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting.”

It also recommends that swimmers shower before getting into either pools or lakes, not “pee or poop in the water,” and “don’t swallow lake water.”

Parents are urged to make sure their children have “bathroom breaks” and change diapers in designated changing areas to keep germs away from people and the water.

“Children are prime targets for norovirus and other germs that can live in lakes and swimming pools because they’re so much more likely to get the water in their mouths,” said Michael Beach, the CDC’s associate director for healthy water. “Keeping germs out of the water in the first place is key to keeping everyone healthy and helping to keep the places we swim open all summer.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has issued warnings for people not to swim in waters that have “no swimming” signs and advisories about unsafe water.

“Polluted runoff and untreated sewage in the water” can expose swimmers to all kinds of pathogens, the EPA said, noting that bodies of water can be contaminated with runoff from nearby farms with pigs and chickens.

Pollution also can be created by people who leave trash or animal waste at beaches, the EPA said.

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